Creatures Of The Night 33 Years Later

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COTN‘Two Fisted.  To The Very End.”

“I Love It Loud” was a hard song for a lifelong KISS fan to hate.  It was hard for people who hated KISS to hate.  Sure Paul Stanley hated it but he’s also the guy who wrote Let’s Put the X In Sex”. 

On October 13th, 1982 KISS released Creatures Of Night. COTN would be the last KISS album to be released on 8 track. Oh and it would also be their last album in make-up for about 16 years. I was pretty pumped when I saw the cassette behind the glass at K-Mart. I was even happier when my mom said I could do more that stick my hand through that hole in the glass door and hold it.  I could get it. My parents had recently gotten divorced making my family go from poor to super poor. So tossing 8 bucks for a KISS album wasn’t something that happened often.

COTN8As COTN enjoys its 33rd anniversary I have decided to use my pulpit that is Decibel Geek to do a retrospective on this much-misinterpreted record and time in KISStory.

11 months earlier KISS released their first and last concept record Music From The Elder. When it became the biggest flop in the bands catalog the ripples of change started to wave hard. Starting with Ace Frehley’s ever growing disenchantment with KISS. He wanted out. Which was a problem.  The details of how are out there, but it goes something like this.  KISS‘ record label, Casablanca, had been bought by Polygram. Part of that deal included some major guarantees for KISS who stopped turning a profit right about the time Neil Bogart started blowing on the ink the signatures were signed with. At the time of the deal, it wouldn’t have seemed an issue but the new deal contained one little loophole in Polygram‘s advantage. If KISS ever had fewer than three founding members Polygram could back out of the deal. And in 1982 that would not be good for KISS who had already dismissed original drummer Peter Criss two years earlier. So Ace leaving the band would afford Polygram a get out of jail free card on a one sided deal with a band that seemed to be on the brink of demise. In an effort to hoodwink the powers that held the keys to the KISS bank account, Gene and Paul (Demon and Starchild for post 2001 fans) worked out some sort of secret deal with Ace for him to do some promotion and be on the album cover. The plan as I understand it was to have Ace’s replacement in place by the start of the tour and hope no one at Polygram would be the wiser.  Ace‘s Delorian be damned.  They may never notice!

They noticed.

Making relations with Polygram worse was an ill-advised lawsuit by KISS against Polygram. So when KISS announced the oust of Ace, Polygram pounced. In the end, a re-worked deal was agreed to and KISS would salvage their career with 1983’s Lick It Up. All of this is important to the storyline of COTN. They were dealing with an original member wanting to leave, suing their record label, finding a replacement for Ace without their record label finding out, looking at what had to be an ever confused Eric Carr and dealing with the aftermath of the Elder. All while writing and recording COTN. Oh and a guy named Vinnie Vincent was squeezing himself into the KISS picture.

COTNcasThe record would be produced by Michael James Jackson. Feature co-writes by hit makers like Bryan Adams and Adam Mitchell. Drummer Eric Carr played bass on “I Still Love You” as Gene continued to care less about actual musician stuff. And so many guitarists that I think I may have played on at least one track. When you look at all the turmoil involved with KISS land in 1982, it really is no wonder this may be the most misreported and perplexing time in the band’s history.

It’s been called a return to form for KISS. But in reality it’s KISS forcing themselves to be heavier. Possibly the heaviest they’ve ever been.  As the saying goes every action has an opposite reaction to the Elder. It features a drum tone so bombastic it can be used as a laxative. And on the topic of drumming, Eric Carr’s performance on this record became the blueprint for hard rock and metal bands of the eighties that would soon be watching KISS from their rearview mirrors.

COTNLabConsidering the quagmire it was recorded in it may be KISS‘ finest work.  Not that I think it’s their best record.  (Everyone knows that would be Hotter Than Hell).  But considering the circumstances it was recorded under, it has only two weak tracks (“Keep Me Coming” and “Danger”) which are otherwise surrounded by good to great songs.  Say what you want about “I Love It Loud” but it is that mammoth unforgettable song that when recorded by the right band at the right time becomes timeless.  Pulling that off is no easier than writing “Stairway To Heaven.”

By almost any angle Michael James Jackson was at best a unique choice of producer.  Factor in his background working with the dick softening sounds of Pablo Cruise it’s even more amazing how heavy the record turned out.

Paul wrote in his book:  “As we prepared to make our next album not a lot of A-list producers were knocking at our doors.  In fact, people weren’t even returning our calls.  Finally in the summer of 1982, I scheduled a lunch with a guy named Michael James Jackson.  It turned out he had no real experience with rock and roll bands.”

From the book The Eric Carr Story; Michael James JacksonKISS was at a seminal point when I met with them.  This was right after they did the Elder.  I didn’t have any background whatsoever in doing metal or hard rock.  So I was an unusual choice.  When I met with them it was not as if it was a job I was vying for.  But there was a certain amount of ‘good sense’ that we came to in our conversations.”

And there was also the issue of who would play guitar on it.  Most recollections refer to Vinnie‘s early involvement as someone who was brought in as a songwriter that eventually weaseled his way into the band.  Almost as if Paul and Gene were the girl who finally relented to that “friends” advances.  Knowing how much G&P love revisionist history, I have my doubts about how it has been described by them.

From Paul‘s book:  “People always talked about Vinnie‘s talent but never had good things to say about him as a person.  He seemed wrong somehow – he was odd looking and shifty – but we were between a rock and a hard place.”

Wow!  You were pretty much forced to hire Vinnie.  I’m so sorry Paul.  I had no idea.

From Gene‘s book:  “I kept telling him ‘Look, you can’t be the guitar player.  You’re too thin, you’re too small and you just don’t look like you’re part of the band.’  And he kept saying, ‘No, no.  I belong, I belong.'”

Leave it to Gene Simmons to claim someone is too skinny to be a rock star.

cotnvinnThe later years and many lawsuits Vinnie filed against the band and the fact that Vinnie has more co-write’s with G&P over two records than any other person in the band’s history makes their recollection of events seem at least a bit suspect.  What if Vinnie actually got screwed?  Just because he lost a legal battle doesn’t mean G&P were ethical.  It sounds like from the get-go they treated him almost like he was pledging a fraternity.

From Chris Lendt‘s book KISS and SellVinnie was justified in complaining about at least one condition.  When KISS brought him from his home in LA we scrimped on his lodging by putting him up at a crummy hotel in midtown Manhattan.  It was run down, frequented by hookers who paid a weekly rate, with a lobby that stank of rancid cooking odors from an adjoining coffee shop.”

To be fair, there is also signs that Vinnie may be the self-destructive nut job he is painted out to be. But there does seem to be a major change in Vinnie pre-KISS and post-KISS. Like the powerful and attractive hosts of Decibel Geek’s weekly podcast Chris and Aaron have opined, maybe Gene and Paul are the reason Vinnie lost his shit.  My guess is real problems or doubts about Vinnie came later and revolved around one thing.  Money.  They were hemorrhaging debt at this point.  Had to figure out how to pay off Ace Frehley for quitting.  And were more than happy to get all they could out of Vinnie while they could. Hoping he would just do it on the cheap in exchange for the opportunity.  That my friends is the music industry in a nutshell.  From a small town bar booking cover bands to today’s streaming services resulting in pennies for millions of plays.  I could share numerous first-hand accounts that show there is no limit to how far people are willing to go to screw over a musician.  Why should two down on their luck, running out of liquid capital men named Gene and Paul be given the benefit of the doubt when looked at through a wide scope (for the record I like Vinnie‘s playing and song contribution with KISS but he always seemed odd as a ‘Member’.)

As for who was THE guitar player it sounds like a hodge-podge of largely no names.  In his book, Paul mentions Steve Farris, Robben Ford, Steve Hunter, future Bon Jovi guitar player Richie Sambora and even a 17-year-old named Saul Hudson (Slash) as candidates to replace Ace Frehley.  Not one to be outdone, Gene has claimed many times that Eddie Van Halen approached him about joining KISS at this time.  “We thought it better for KISS to find an unknown and for Eddie to return to Van HalenGene‘s assertion of this has been supported by no one.  Most notably Paul StanleyEddie did come down to the studio during Creatures, and he spoke to me on the phone during that period. There was real dissension in his band at that time, that much was clear. But as far as him wanting to join KISS? No.”  In the (Authorized) book KISS Behind The Mask even Vinnie states about this time: “They were still auditioning tons of guitar players,  The way they auditioned them was to have them play on some tracks.”  Which explains why there is so much uncertainty regarding who played on what.  It also emphasizes the penny-pinching KISS felt inclined to do during this time.  Was Vinnie unreasonable or was it a bad deal weighted in KISS‘ favor?  I doubt we’ll ever know.

COTN_album_cover_1985COTN didn’t do what G&P wanted it to.  Or what they thought it should.  So in 1985 they changed the album cover to feature the then current and unmasked lineup, re-sequenced the songs and squeezed it out hoping to take advantage of their newly reclaimed fame courtesy of removing the makeup and releasing two hit records in Lick It Up and Animalize.  It would take KISS over a decade before they corrected this dipshit move.  Oddly, I have never heard one KISS fan shower any love over this cover.  It seems the reasons to hate this cover are the same to hate the current band.  Just saying.

The record holds up.  The drum sound is still Mt. Everest of percussion recording.  And this may be the Eric Carr‘s finest performance on record.  It’s also one of Gene‘s finest moments.  His songs on this record set the tone for what he would become post-makeup.  But as good as this record is I can say it’s overrated.  But only in this sense. It’s not as good as its reputation. Yet, it’s also underrated as few times in history has a band in so much turmoil delivered so strongly. I guess I’m saying this record and it’s history cannot be separated.

‘Two fisted to the very end.’

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